The El Dorado Complex in the Shaping of Indo-Guyanese – Clem Seecharan

           THE 2014 REPUBLIC OF GUYANA DISTINGUISHED                    LECTURE     

                The El Dorado Complex in the Shaping of Indo-Guyanese: A                                                       Revisionist Perspective

                                          by  CLEM SEECHARAN

Emeritus Professor of History,  London Metropolitan University

In February 1594 Sir Robert Dudley made inquiries about the rumoured Empire of Guiana…He sent a small boat to investigate and its crew returned, after great hardships, to say that the natives had told them of goldmines so rich that the people of the country powdered themselves with gold-dust.   Michael Swan (1957)

Guyana has alwaysbeen a land of fantasy. It was the land of El Dorado….  V.S. Naipaul (1991)     

 Guyana, for all its independence and its symbols of nationhood, has never been a closely-knit society…the ethnic divide made this almost impossible. There is hatred between the various ethnic groups with the darkest of the races being reserved for the greatest hatred.      Leader, Kaieteur News, 6 February 2014  

Shortly before he died, the eminent American historian, Professor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr, (1917-2007), reflected on an imperative of the historian: ‘[C]onceptions of the past are far from stable. They are perennially revised by the urgencies of the present. When new urgencies arise in our own times and lives, the historian’s spotlight shifts, probing now into the shadows, throwing into sharp relief things that were always there but that earlier historians had carelessly excised from the collective memory.

Read more – TheElDoradoComplexintheShapingofIndo-Guyanese

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 04/11/2014 at 4:01 pm

    Thanks for sharing this article.

  • de castro  On 04/11/2014 at 4:16 pm

    Bit boring history….never did like history !
    Read most of it anyway

  • Albert  On 04/12/2014 at 12:26 am

    A very edifying piece on the history of race relationship in Guyana. The historical basis for racial attitudes and behaviorism in Guyana base on the cultural experiences of our ancestors in their homeland. We may never see what he is hoping for Guyana. Our political leaders have failed us.

    • Susan Smith  On 06/14/2014 at 4:58 am

      Albert, only if you believe ‘us’ to be ‘sheep’. Political leaders give selflessly of their lives, take risks, do the best they can, while some of ‘us’ (the sheep we may be) sit on the verandah and enjoy the sun and don’t even vote. The attitude of the people must be considered, not blame the politicians. It does not matter which party is in power, the truth of the matter is that we are a nation of under one million, limited resources and many still looking to the USA as a savour. Many still in the rum shop drinking away…. Work ethics are among the few. Many other psychic torture abounding in the people themselves. Politicians cannot solve all the nation’s woes. The people must be the saviour of themselves.
      .. .

  • de castro  On 04/12/2014 at 9:09 am

    Sad but true …but we must fight on to save the next generations from
    mental armagedeon by its present day political leaders ineptitude to change
    their mindset….a mega task …but not impossible.
    We must never give up…fight on, write on, read on …information is power.

    forever the everlasting optimist
    Freedom from mental slavery

  • Michael Gilkes  On 04/13/2014 at 10:35 am

    Brilliant, deeply moving and essential reading. Clem is not only a remarkable scholar, but also a Guyanese of penetrating and honest vision. This lecture should be required reading for all Caribbean and Guyanese educational institutions. Our history is only now being made. Voices like Clem Seecharan’s are crucial in the process of honest self assessment.

  • de castro  On 04/13/2014 at 11:33 am

    I share your sentiments but not your opinion/suggestion.
    Guyana’s history is being re-wrtten today tomorrow not yesterday.
    In my humble opinion if I know where I am from I know where I want
    to go …. but I must not necessarily take that history with me.
    Most of history must not be forgotten but remain history of the
    times….we must move forward….to peace and reconciliation…
    and return to the “new world history”….today’s thinking to morrows history.
    Prefer to live in the present and the future than in the past.
    Only my opinion which others may or may not share.
    History of Europe and for that matter the planet is all about

    CLEM SEEECHARANS opinion I respect but to suggest it be part of the
    Guyanese educational institutions curriculum is taking it a bit too far
    …yes it should be available for “historians” but its for individuals to
    decide what they wish to read….freedom in a democratic society.

    My spin entirely…nothing personal just an opinion my friend

    Guyanese in heart mind and soul….


    • Michael Gilkes  On 04/13/2014 at 11:57 am

      You are quite right. History should not be embalmed or become merely ‘what happened in the past’. We can learn from history only if ( as Clem suggests ) we see it as part of a creative process of self-understanding. Remember: “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it’
      History is not static, a collection of facts and dates. It’s a living experience and takes place even as we exchange these opinions. now. No one can understand the present without being aware of the past.
      I also think that the creative work of our artists and writers should be part of our educational diet. To omit or ignore their work is to deliberately starve our own creative lives. Food for the mind is as important as food for the body.
      Michael G

  • Thinker  On 04/13/2014 at 12:29 pm

    It is absolutely essential that this be compulsory reading at the Form 5 level. Just as how at least in the past, UG students had to do a compulsory course in World History. We need a sense of perspective. All the “democratic” societies ensure that its citizens have an understanding of where they are coming from in an effort to deal with issues to be faced. Guyana must be no different.

  • gigi  On 04/13/2014 at 5:56 pm

    I found the exploration of the Indian psyche very insightful and helpful to me in my understanding of my Indian heritage. There are some parts I disagreed with, mainly that indentured servitude is not slavery/new slavery. In my readings of indentured servitude of whites, and I imagined it was worse for non-whites, those contracts often were meaningless and were used as a rouse to trick people to sign on. Often, the administrators and representatives of law were part and parcel of this very racket. So yes, indentured servants were slaves and to deny this is playing into the myth or cultivated amnesia that Mr Seecharan speaks of.

    I took a course in early civilization and my male white professor was very good and clearly was in love with and enthralled with most of his topics, particularly China. He even claimed to have Genghis Khan gene, even though he was German. When he got to the subject of the Indian sub-continent, I knew instantly that he did not care for the people and the region. My great grandparents were from India and a part of me wanted to let him know so as save him from publicly showing his distaste and bias, but the devious streak in me wanted to expose him and the latter prevailed. I sat through two days of his lectures and listened to him criticize and condemn this region, laugh at Gandhi, and let it be known how this region was basically going to be the downfall of the world and civilization. On the third day of this lecture, I decided to reveal my roots because he had said enough to expose himself. And I took perverse pleasure in watching him squirm (I guess he thought I was Hispanic since most non-Indians assume I am). He devoted the rest of his lecture on India to relaying the good things about India – their achievements and contributions to civilization, which he was obviously knowledgeable about but sought to obscure. He even elaborated on their Aryan roots hijacked by the Germans and Iranians when I mentioned DNA testing proving that the Aryan gene is more prevalent in Indians than Iranians and Europeans/Germans.

    • Satish Sharma  On 04/18/2014 at 11:55 am

      Thanks GIGI, for your very worthwhile and entertaining contribution. I make the following comment:

      1 Clem Seecharan’s acadamic skills are clearly evident in his writings even though he does betray his left-of-center leanings now and again. There are indeed parts in his writings which I found myself questioning, however as we are all human we all have our slight biases. Taken as a whole, the essay is a worthwhile one.

      2 Your narrative about the bias of your own university lecturer goes some way to show that we can never take the opinion of any single ‘expert’ as THE DEFINITIVE TRUTH.

      3 I get the impression that Seecharan wrote his essay from an Indian historic viewpoint, warts and all. To be fair, one would have to ask Seecharan for his essay to pay equal attention to the lives and circumstances of those Africans’ lives in Africa before they came to Guyana.

  • Thinker  On 04/14/2014 at 3:24 am

    The Aryan gene is absolutely unscientific. It is pervasive 19th century mythology. Anyone can check the Aryan Invasion/Influx Theory on google and see how much it has been refuted by historians and scientists from India.

    Chattel slavery and indentured servitude are two different things. Check the historical facts.

  • de castro  On 04/14/2014 at 3:24 am

    Just loved your “reality” perspective you bring to the debate….and your
    courage to question your professors “interlectual” suggestions on racism.
    With the DNA factual conclusion….I resonate with your understanding
    of indentered labour as “slavery” under the pretext of “work”….
    it reiterated my thinking on the “work houses” of Victorian England.

    Thanks for the enlightment on a subject dear to my understanding of why
    I became an active trade unionist in my latter years….
    You have helped to free me from “mental slavery”….

    “Male white professor was very good and clearly in love with and enthralled with
    most of his topics”…..
    Had me smiling inside on how you described the professor.
    In Guyana’s history “ghandi” was certainly “cheddi`s” mentor.
    Ghandi was religiously a “Hindu” assinated by a religious fanatic “Muslim”
    Even India’s history is embedded in religious dogma which divided India
    ….it was a similar case in England for different reason that the Christian
    church was divided.
    Today we see a Hindu regaining power in one of the most populated
    democracies on the planet.
    Religion can divide our world….hopefully politics can unite it….
    so that we all benefit economically…
    My dream come true.!!

    Enjoyed your comment tremendously


    • Albert  On 04/19/2014 at 9:32 pm

      First of all I think Seecharan did a masterful job in explaining aspects of Indian history and culture. As someone who work for many years in predominantly Indian populated areas in Guyana there were many aspects of Indian culture I was curious about but could not quite understand until now reading Seecharan’s article.

      I don’t like to dwell on some aspects of history because even a God cannot erase history. Simple logic however, suggest indentured labor and slavery are two different things. My understanding is that indentured labor was a voluntary venture. People agreed to a contract on a voluntary basis to provide a service for whatever reward. True the contract may have been dishonor later but that’s a breach of contract for which there might have been legal remedy. Was there not a form of remuneration agreed to by the Guyana government after independence?

      On the other hand taking people by force to perform labor under the threat of physical punishment is an entirely different arrangement. That forced labor was abolished for economic reasons. It was too costly to manage labor by force. There are abundance of literature on this point starting with that by the TT historian Eric Williams.

      What is important to remember is the lesson by the British of setting race against race for economic gain and the failure of local politicians to solve this historical race problem.

  • Thinker  On 04/14/2014 at 3:28 am

    Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu Brahmin, Godse, Please check historical facts before misleading the public.

  • de castro  On 04/14/2014 at 3:45 am

    Thanks for the correction my friend…will have to Google that one for the fact
    and respond if necessary….

  • de castro  On 04/14/2014 at 3:50 am

    My apologies
    That’s why I love googleing…yoodling !

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 04/21/2014 at 11:58 pm

    I have followed with interest all the comments made on Clem Seecharan’s lecture. Now, having finally read the lecture, I must agree with Michael Gilkes and Thinker that’s it should be essential reading for Guyana’s teachers and students, more specifically in the fields of history and social studies.

    I thank Clem Seecharan for his candid examination of the Indo-Guyanese psyche. It has helped me to better understand the difficulties we face as Guyanese in bridging the Indian-African gap. As Clem Seecharan puts it: “We are poles away from comprehending the resilient Indian-African incomprehension in Guyana. It is so sensitive that it may never receive intellectual scrutiny.” I think that Professor Seecharan’s lecture is a good beginning.

    Of special interest was the professor’s discussion about his maternal great-grandmother. She was “devoid of history.” I, too, am devoid of history. I know nothing about my paternal grandparents. I know very little about my maternal grandparents. In adult life, I came to the realization that there must be shame involved. I resolved never to be ashamed of my humble origins.

    If we cling to our fantasies of an imagined past, we deny or belittle our achievements and our capabilities in forging a new life and in moving forward.

    • Michael  On 04/22/2014 at 9:57 am

      Rosaliene your comment is very moving. It demonstrates the power of cross-culturality as a way of understanding and coming to terms with the past and moving forward to the future. It also gives us all hope for the better Guyana we want. It is a future towards which we all have to work. The political climate never changes unless we change it by our determination to be one people in our hearts and minds, not just in political slogans.
      Love and peace,
      Michael Gilkes.

      • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 04/23/2014 at 1:24 am

        Thanks, Michael. Love and peace to you, too, and to all those who are following this post.

  • de castro  On 04/22/2014 at 7:00 am

    Your final para says it all.
    Culturally our world is so beautifully diverse that prejudices should
    be “buried” if we are to move forward….read write on !

    • Michael  On 04/22/2014 at 10:00 am

      Amen to that, my brother/sister

    • Albert  On 04/22/2014 at 2:28 pm

      Cameron, the current British PM, said publicly that diversity has failed in Britain. Watching at recent events in Britain it is difficult not to think so. It sure as hell has a problem in the US.
      In Guyana we have heard claims for partition which is an easy thing to say. Has anyone ever read of a creative objective plan by the politicians, or major figure, in Guyana on how to develop a diverse society?

  • de castro  On 04/22/2014 at 4:09 pm

    Cameron intentions may be good … But he is a politician.!!
    I don’t dislike the man but party politics rules Britannia !!

    Culture and religion goes much deeper than politics….

    Development of a diverse society should be encouraged by politicians
    with laws to protect minorities and individuals in that society….
    How these are interpreted and implemented the question ?

    Partition is a “nationalistic” idea to acquire power.
    Did not the Berlin wall prove that…..east west divide.
    Do we wish to return to a world east v west or north south divide.
    No sire “a united world without wars” is a much more peaceful and prosperous
    My dream

    • Susan Smith  On 06/15/2014 at 3:43 am

      It is rewarding to know that politicians mutter the word ‘diversity’, Until they take serious steps to actively promote the value of diversity, the nation will move towards unity and prosperity. Once we have sexism, classism, homophobia, racism, without the continuous emphasis on ‘RESPECT’ for all, there will be divisions, biases, stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination. The ‘rum shop’ mentality and male chauvanism (having wife and mistress!) and objectifying women still pervades the society. Women still have a long way to go in Guyana!
      The UK is full of classism (bow to the Queen!) and you hardly see a British television with diversity.
      There is some diversity in the judiciary, but more action is needed.

  • Susan Smith  On 06/13/2014 at 9:01 pm

    Some professors in England received the benefit of the old colonial masters and we must keep in mind that Professor Seecharan is such a benefactor. Although I respect his writing in his book, Bechu and a few others, I don’t think he is writing from the true historical perspective and reality (some of which none of us can claim to know). Therefore, he is making a lot of nonsensical suppositions (I need not repeat them). He is so wrapped up in the English white association, and with many Indians being millionairs in London, I can now see an element of discriminatory tink-tank in this supposition that Indians were free to leave India. What does the word ‘freedom’ really mean? What does ‘enticement’ mean? What does white massa mean? How did ‘whiteness’ influence the minds of some Indians, including ‘bhai, dat gyal prapa pretty; she fair fair…like bracka’ – so the mind is a curious gaze… Is Clem gazing at such minds, including his own?

  • Susan Smith  On 06/14/2014 at 4:49 am

    It is incorrect to say one is ‘devoid of history’. The mind is a wonderful memory of remnants… both decendants of African ancestors and Indian ancestors can speak of some remnants that trigger our memory of from whence we have come from planet earth… as we move from place to place… continent to continent. These remnants – be they music – Anancy stories or spiritual movements in the fields while under oppression – or sounds of instruments – drums and tabla or new creations in the steel drums – WE DO have a history. So here again, clem Seecharan would be giving incorrect education to the young minds. No one is VOID of history…. One only has to dig deep into one’s consciousness to know thyself in all our multi-dimensional, multi-cultural, multi-spiritual selves.

  • Thinker  On 06/14/2014 at 6:00 pm

    The “devoid of history” comment is not to be taken literally. Seecharan is simply describing how his grandmother APPEARED to him, since she hardly ever referred to here background. Susan seems to be reading things into the statement that Seecharan had no intention of portraying.

  • Susan Smith  On 06/15/2014 at 3:34 am

    Thinker always remember, it is not ‘intention’ of a writer that counts, but rather it is the ‘effect’ of the words. Remember also the meaning of ‘unintentional’ bias. People must take responsibility for their actions, whether unintended or not. So, yes, ‘devoid’ of history is totally INCORRECT for Seecharan to say that about his grandmother. He could say that he was uncertain as to her history prior to doing his own research as when he looked at her, he knew not what her history was. For indeed, she did have a history, though not necessarily known to some..

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